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How to Create a Bootable Windows SD Card or Flash Drive

Create a bootable Windows 7 SD Card or USB Flash Drive  If you’re working with a netbook or a tablet computer, you likely won’t have an included DVD-ROM drive.  Normally this is fantastic! It makes your overall device lighter, and less expensive.  But, if you need to install or reformat Windows then you run into some problems rather quickly.  No DVD-drive means you can’t just burn a copy of Windows and throw it in there.  Fortunately, most netbooks have an SD Card slot, and ALL of them support USB Pen Drives.  Let’s use that to our advantage and get Windows running!

What you need to do this:

  • A minimum of a 4GB* removable storage disk.  This can be an SD card or a USB Pen Drive.
  • A computer already running Windows.
  • A Windows 7, Vista, or XP installation disk or .iso file equivalent.

And not necessarily a requirement to make this… But, in order to use it for the computer you are installing Windows on you will need a motherboard that supports booting from removable storage.

Got all that?  Way to go!  Let’s get started.

Step 1

Alright, so you have your SD Card or an USB Pen Drive (some people call either of these flash drives).  Keep in mind that if you go the SD Card route to make sure your computer as an SD Card reader, and that it fits the same-size SD Card.

Once you have procured yourself one of these, plug it into your computer.  If you have anything valuable saved on your portable storage, back up any data you have saved on your SD / USB before we get started.  In the steps that follow we’ll be formatting and completely cleaning it out in the process of turning it into a windows boot disk.

*I suppose a 3GB drive would work, but as far as I know that is a very uncommon size.  And besides, once you are done installing you can use the 4GB drive for Readyboost to improve your system performance.

install windows 7 from SD card or usb

Step 2

Go to the Start menu and Type cmd in the search box to open up the command prompt.

start menu launch cmd

In this tutorial we’ll run into a lot of command-line, so to keep it easy I’ll just list the command for each step. You’ll need to Press Enter after each command is typed out.

First we need to open diskpart, which is a cmd-line program built-into Windows.

Type:
diskpart

 

launch diskpart

Step 3

A new window should appear with the system32\diskpart.exe in the title bar.

Type:
list disk

A number of disks should appear in a small matrix(chart).  Look for the one that matches the size of your SD Card/USB drive.  It might not be an exact match, since actual usable disk space is generally about 5% less than what is advertised.  For the next command you need to enter the number that corresponds to that drive.

Type:
select disk #

find your sd flash drive

Step 4

Now that the disk is selected, we can start cleaning it up and getting it ready.   These commands should be the same for everyone, so just enter them one after the other.

Type:
clean
Type:
create partition primary
Type:
select partition 1
Type:
active
Type:
format fs=fat32

Formatting will take a couple of minutes, so now is a good time to go grab a snack. ;)

Once it is done we’ll assign a drive letter to your newly formatted removable storage disk.*

Type:
assign letter=y
Type:
exit

*You don’t have to use the letter “y” but since that is likely not taken we’ll use it for this tutorial to keep things simple.

clean and create partition

format partition

assign new drive letter

Step 6

If you have a Windows 7 installation DVD, insert it into your DVD drive.  If instead you have an installation .ISO, mount it on your computer using a Virtual disk-drive.

windows 7 installation disc or iso

Once your disk is inserted, Click the Start Menu and then Click Computer.  A window should pop-up listing all of your hard drives and removable storage.  Look for your DVD drive and take a note of what letter is assigned to it. If you are using a virtual drive, it might be called the BD-ROM drive instead of DVD. In my case, the DVD drive is assigned the letter “e” so that is what I’ll be using in the next step.

my computer find dvd drive letter

Step 7

Now all we have to do is copy the files from the installation disk to the sd card.  In the example below, e:\ is my DVD drive and y:\ is my SD card.

Type:
xcopy e:\* y:\ /s /e /f

This might take a while since you are transferring a little over 2GB worth of files.

xcopy from dvd drive to sd card

Done!

After the files completely transfer, you are done!  You now have yourself a Windows installation portable drive.

Now on for the computer that you want to install Windows on using this, all you need to do is restart the computer and spam-press the F2 key while it is booting up; or whatever the setup key is, but F2 is the standard for many systems.  Pushing the F2 key should load up the system Bios, here you have to go into the Boot Device Priority section and change the USB/SD card to #1 on the priority list.  Once this is set, your computer should treat your SD/USB just like a Windows 7 Installation DVD.

set computer to boot from usb drive

101 Responses to How to Create a Bootable Windows SD Card or Flash Drive

  1. Costache Adrian October 29, 2011 at 12:01 am #

    Thank you, it worked perfect for my SD Card.

  2. bice December 8, 2011 at 6:10 pm #

    cool! works perfect! i <3 you! :D

    • Will October 24, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

      Ewww!!! :$

  3. Arjunan December 9, 2011 at 2:58 am #

    Awesome site…Useful Information ….

  4. gegil1 December 12, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    It gives me access denied on the last step when i try to copy the files to the sd card

    • Aaron May 2, 2013 at 1:09 am #

      I know this is very delayed but in case anyone else has the problem you need a space between the “*” and the “y”.

    • anonymous August 8, 2013 at 9:48 am #

      I know is a little late, but if anyone else has the same problem, you have to open the cmd as administrator. Just right click on the cmd icon and select open as administrator.

  5. Carl December 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

    Ok I get to “active” and hit enter and it says no partition selected. tried it 3 times not working for me

  6. Carl December 27, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    Alrighty then I switched computers and it is working now, then again I could spelled partion like this instead of the partition as I should have.

    Oh well it is working

  7. ozgur January 15, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    cooooooooooool!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Manni January 21, 2012 at 5:00 am #

    its not a system disk so it will not boot. need system files to boot, xcopy will not do that

  9. Cheet January 25, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    Ok so my problem is after list disk cmd my sd card isn’t shown only my hard drive which windows recognises it and I can use it so why isn’t it showing up?

  10. thulasiayya January 27, 2012 at 3:45 am #

    Hai! i want the page detail with screen short of How to Create a Windows Bootable Install SD Card or USB Flash Drive

  11. Dre February 16, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    How do you know when the files are done copying?

    • jerseygadfly April 23, 2012 at 8:13 am #

      the lowest prompt line shows the file being copied, when the prompt moves down to allow a new command you are done

    • Nelson Bailey July 17, 2014 at 9:43 am #

      When files are done copying the C:\ DOS promt will appear on the lower left hand side of screen. basically this is using the old DOS operation system to issue commands.

  12. Finn Skovgaard February 18, 2012 at 3:48 am #

    Awesome. Exactly what I was looking for while trying to save my Windows 7 with a DVD image after it screwed itself up and none of the diagnostic tools could fix it (no improvement since XP in terms of stability or repairability, if possible even worse).

    However, diskpart doesn’t work as you describe on XP. It cannot select a USB key, only a real disk. It doesn’t list a USB key with list disk, only with list volume. One can select volume, but then it refuses to accept clean, since no disk is selected, only a volume. I’ll have to do it on Windows 7.

  13. Finn Skovgaard February 18, 2012 at 4:27 am #

    http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/how-to-create-a-bootable-usb-drive-from-your-windows-cd/ tells how to create a bootable Windows copy with WinToFlash. Its wizard makes it very simple. One still needs a virtual drive if the image is not on a DVD already.

  14. ramesh April 1, 2012 at 7:24 am #

    i want to know how to that before window instalation i how will do bootable any sd card.
    so pls help me .

    • Paul May 23, 2012 at 4:04 am #

      “i want to know how to that before window instalation i how will do bootable any sd card.
      so pls help me .”

      dude… WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?!
      could you speak ENGLISH?!

  15. Javier Antiespecísta April 2, 2012 at 3:57 am #

    Thank you! the perfect tutorial!

  16. krzynio_s May 13, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Do not work. LIST DISK do not show SD-Card as ‘Disk’ (only as ‘Volume’) and can not be selected. Further action are not possible.

    • ill February 20, 2013 at 11:36 am #

      Dude you are a dipshit leave this site you have no clue what you are talking about

      • Ian November 21, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

        tells a person to leave a tutorial site because he asked a question

        lol

  17. Paul May 23, 2012 at 4:02 am #

    wtf? why don’t you go to computer -> right-click on your flash drive -> format, select FAT32 and THAT’S IT?!!!
    why do you use the command line??? those commands suck! it would be much faster to format it in regular way!

    • jsvanc June 4, 2012 at 11:12 pm #

      The reason to use the diskpart command is so that you can mark the partition as active. If you don’t do this step, the netbook will not be able to boot from the SD Card.

  18. vishwa May 23, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    it is very use full

  19. ankit June 2, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

    during the format process….. accidentally the sd card was removed in the middle of the process …and now the sd card cant be mounted by the mobile what to do???????

    • lex luther June 5, 2012 at 11:57 am #

      Kick urself in the nuts for starters. try mounting to another pc.

    • Ron June 22, 2012 at 5:57 am #

      Put the card in a PC or read it with a card reader. Open ‘My Computer’. Right click the SD card and hit ‘Format…’ Choosing a quick format is fine. Make sure ‘File System’ is set to FAT32. Hit ‘Start’ and when it’s done your SD card will be formatted, which also kind of means it got ‘reset’.

      After that, just run through the steps in this article again :)

  20. ASA June 8, 2012 at 4:13 am #

    Thanks from Lithuania.

  21. Paul June 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Great Tutorial Worked Perfectly!!!!!!

  22. weiderhosen July 2, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    you are awesome thnx

  23. Mario Podrecca July 12, 2012 at 1:03 am #

    thanks dude. very easy steps, good explanation

  24. ebin July 16, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    but i have no cd i have only a windows .iso file only

    • Steve Krause July 16, 2012 at 10:45 am #

      What is it exactly you are trying to do?

    • Benny July 17, 2012 at 5:43 am #

      Mount the iso file with Virtual Clone drive.

    • Marcus2012 August 3, 2012 at 2:44 am #

      Or use 7-Zip (free) and extract all the files from the ISO file.

  25. Sid July 18, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    Cool man its working !!!!!!!!!!!! :)

  26. Mike July 21, 2012 at 4:38 am #

    I’m getting stuck on Step 7. After a little while of lines of text appearing in the CMD, a message appears saying “The target volume does not support symbolic links”. Anyone know how to fix this?

    • veve August 30, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      same here. you basically need to get out of diskpart by typing exit.

      then once you re back to the normal cmd line, type in the line given in step 7 again

  27. Louis Kaplan July 21, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    Using a 8 GB Sdhc card. Receive a “invalid partition table” message when booting my PC using this card. Any ideas? Maybe I need a smaller (4 gb) card, non-SDHC? I don’t think I made any mistakes with the script above, tried multiple times and receive same message. Thanks for any additional guidance!

  28. Volkan Cengen August 2, 2012 at 3:24 pm #

    Hi. I’ve done all steps without any problem. Now I need to delete these Windows files on my SD card ’cause I want to use the card on my camera. But it doesn’t work! When I try to format the card a message pops up: “Disk is write protected”

    How can I solve this issue? Any thoughts?

    • Marcus2012 August 3, 2012 at 2:42 am #

      Make sure that the slider on the left hand side is pushed up towards the gold pins on the back.

      • Volkan Cengen August 3, 2012 at 11:56 am #

        Thanks for the tip but it’s not like that. :) I used that SD card for the first time, I never touched any slider before and after the above mentioned steps. I finished my work (btw I had to boot from a USB hard drive because there was no boot option from SD card :D) and wanted to delete the content.

    • Bob August 22, 2012 at 8:27 am #

      Try using the diskpart clean described above

  29. saqib August 13, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    GR8
    well done. Good job.
    I have never seen such an instructive and helpful post.
    THANK YOU :)

  30. Chris Worth August 14, 2012 at 7:34 am #

    Many thanks for this helpful and informative set of instructions.

  31. Zonemb August 17, 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    thz, its helpful

  32. MikePa August 22, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    my question lags rest of the folks comments, hope someone will still answer me. The SD is ready as I follow your easy instructions. unfortunately I’m stuck not having neither the Windows 7 installation DVD not installation .ISO. when I bought the HP desktop W7 came preinstalled and no supporting hardware was included. Is factory image partition that I can use to complete the task? would someone please advice what should I do next?

    • Steve Krause August 22, 2012 at 10:59 am #

      Hi Mike,

      If you don’t have a DVD with Windows on it or an ISO, you are stuck unfortunately.

      Your HP should have a factory partition like you mentioned however that is there only to rebuild your HP box back to the factory image when you received it the first time. It will take your box back to the Windows 7 fresh install. I think there is an “easy” way to use that to build a Windows 7 Install DVD or ISO.

      What you might be able to do is wait for Windows 8 to release to consumers in October then goto Windows.com and buy the media for $40 to get Windows 8 DVD media. From there you will be able to build a Bootable USB drive as this article describes.

  33. papajuju August 27, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    Each time i use DISKPART and SELECT my SD CARD, the card is not readable again ! Even not by Windows !… `-(

  34. Yarys September 11, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    great guide..after long time i was doing something like this and copletely forgot how to do it… nice reminder ,how quick its possible forget basics …thanks for saving me :-)

    • Steve Krause September 11, 2012 at 6:48 pm #

      Yeah no problem. Great tip in time for Windows 8!

  35. tONY September 22, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    hEY THANKS A LOT BUDDY THESE INSTRUCTIONS REALLY HELPED

    • Steve Krause September 22, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

      You’re very welcome. It was our pleasure.

      Sent from my Mobile

  36. Christian Larsen October 9, 2012 at 3:20 am #

    Thank you so much!

  37. Adrian October 17, 2012 at 2:18 am #

    Hi, I get a “Remove all media, press any key to restart” error when I try to boot after the SD card. I executed the process above. The BIOS has been set to boot after the USB/SD card. Any ideas why it doesn’t work? Thank you

  38. buythiscomputer November 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    Hello,

    I do not have USB/SD card option in my insyde h2o bios !

    I can boot from USB but not from SDCARD, how to do ?

    Thank you for your help !

  39. Fred December 25, 2012 at 1:17 am #

    Thank you, it works great !
    I had to disable Antivir to be able to copy the file autorun.inf from the W7 iso,
    else xcopy is blocked.

  40. Hi Anuj Here. December 27, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    Thanks u so much.really its working for me.Thanks again………………….

  41. Christian Khristian December 29, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    EXCELLENT!!!! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!!

  42. Raz December 30, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Hey man, I’ve been using the commands I learned here a few times already until I decided to get a USB Stick without formatting it after installation. I am doing another one with Windows 8 now. I have a question still… is there any chance to make Windows 7 and Windows 8 bootable on the same USB Stick and afterwards, when you try to install on a computer just to choose whether you install Win7 or Win8 ? Thanks

  43. kasperr January 3, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    Hi sir,is it possible to multiboot asd card similar to multiboot usb?If yes please detail the process with each step.

  44. sorin January 17, 2013 at 12:38 am #

    it is possible to boot an tablet pc,android 4.0,1,5 gb dual core processor,1 gb ram,with this method,the tablet running android,you have an solution about that??

  45. scott March 10, 2013 at 5:18 am #

    Great! Thanks for this – I’d seen several posts about using diskpart to create the SD volume but they all seemed to miss the bit about setting the active partition – your steps worked perfectly!

    Cheers

  46. dwindel March 25, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    Did fine until the xcopy command. I have the drive letters right, but Windows didn’t recognize the command. Do spaces matter? I tried several combinations.

  47. NitchiFenk April 3, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Worked well til the part when I got in to the Setup>Boot>Boot Priority Order .
    There was no ” USB/SD “. Can somebody help me ? And is there also a way to undo all of this where in you can use your SD CARD to a storage media again ?

  48. Michael April 10, 2013 at 4:35 am #

    Hi,

    First of, great guide, im getting an error like this:

    G:\sources\boot.wim -> Y:\sources\boot.wim
    G:\zRCDIMAGE\core.wim -> Y:\zRCDIMAGE\core.wim
    File creation error – The parameter is incorrect.

    ive used the following parameters:

    :\>xcopy g:\* y:\ /s /f

    • Michael April 10, 2013 at 4:41 am #

      there is an /e after the /s parameter, dnt know why it didnt got copied.

    • Michael April 10, 2013 at 4:45 am #

      Oh damn, nvm i figured it out..

      Is there anyway to make this work with NTFS file system? or wont that be bootable?

      Anybody?

  49. James May 9, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Ok, I know it is 2 years later. I have an acer aspire one D250-1042. I am attempting to put XP on the new hard drive. The last one stopped working. I followed the instructions to the letter, and everything worked. Even got XP on the SD card. My problem is the netbook won’t boot from the sd card. it doesn’t even recognize it in the bios as being there. Help.

  50. CS May 10, 2013 at 11:27 pm #

    I got as far as the “list disk” command. Sadly, when using that command, my SD card is not read by the Command Prompt and only my hard drive is shown. Could someone help me with this?

  51. ayie May 20, 2013 at 5:10 am #

    how to change the sd card back to normal?

  52. Justine June 2, 2013 at 10:18 pm #

    Great tutorial! To enter setup on my laptop I had to push f10… it previously had Vista installed, I’m in the process of doing a clean install of Windows 7. In case anybody couldn’t get into setup pressing f2, try f10 if you were using Vista.

  53. Roytech June 26, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    @Justine is correct, just to add, you may also try F11 for the boot options when booting up your Laptop or desktops, it will provide you the list of all the devices on your computer.

  54. khalifa July 26, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

    this is awesome man a can not thank you enough

  55. Stan August 8, 2013 at 9:32 am #

    This is sooooo still relevant! Great info. I’ve been stuck for awhile trying to install ubuntu. This article did the trick. Thanks.

  56. 2PacFan August 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Just brilliant , i just wanna thank yu all :D

  57. red August 9, 2013 at 8:35 pm #

    Hi there is it normal that when i used the xcopy command and it didint go all the way to end that says successfully copied the installer it only stops at the intsall.wim

    • THT December 29, 2013 at 5:48 am #

      late reply, but for others that may be reading this – it doesn’t stop there; it’s just a big file so stays on it for quite a while… just leave it to do it’s thing and once it’s finished you can type in a new command – that’s when you know it really is done :)

  58. Jeffrey Duke August 23, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    Worked Great. It’s not too bad I’m using a Highspeed 16gb SD Card and so far doing what it’s supposed to great job thanks. :)

  59. Tom August 25, 2013 at 11:40 am #

    Last command don’t work for me. Could you please tell what letter is what? Thank you.

  60. Webwench September 5, 2013 at 3:59 am #

    Formatted and copied successfully and boot priority set on SD Card, however when attempting to boot i get:

    “File: \Boot\BCD

    Status: 0xc000000c

    Info: An error occurred while attempting to read the boot configuration data.”

    Any ideas? Thanks in advance.

  61. SalahUlDeen October 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

    i dont have a disk or a iso file
    i only have the normal setup.exe
    what shall i do ?

  62. Win7Install November 27, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    I’m getting the same error as webwench “Info: An error occurred while attempting to read the boot configuration data.””

  63. THT December 29, 2013 at 5:58 am #

    just done this after fitting an SSD to my netbook, all worked fine with no issues :)

  64. Muhammad Farooqi January 21, 2014 at 12:14 am #

    wow. Thank you very much..
    btw.. do i need to format using cmd .??? why not just right click and format.??
    thank you

  65. barrelman January 27, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    using a 4gb micro sd card. cmd stopped at install.wim ->install.wim. is this the last file to be copied? do i need to wait a lil longer? will cmd output a messege saying its finished? how will i know its done?

    thanks alot.

    • dave February 1, 2014 at 12:32 pm #

      when iv finished using this for a boot up disk can I make it back to a sd card for my camera thank you

  66. Karl February 3, 2014 at 3:01 pm #

    my girl-friend received a desktop about 3 months ago from her grandfather.

    The box runs win 7 home prem.

    my girl-friend … I’m serious … really knows nothing about computers … like her car all she knows is that gas goes in the tank … WELL … she found an INSTALL XP disk in the box of stuff from her granddad … and she diligently tried to install XP over the 7 to impress me when I came home …. now the box doesn’t run …

    I tried a boot disk and I can’t find the original OEM win 7 disk … grand dad isn’t helping … can’t remember anything …

    What can I do ….????

    I have a Win 7 hm prem *.iso file a friend gave me … can I use this???

    Karl ….

  67. ntomi26 February 5, 2014 at 1:39 am #

    Hey guys! This article explains the same thing,but for usb drives.

    http://www.intowindows.com/how-to-install-windows-7vista-from-usb-drive-detailed-100-working-guide/

    I dont know if that is much of a difference, but it worked out for me nice! (there are also picture of the cmd)

  68. Prashant March 9, 2014 at 12:47 am #

    dont find my sd card in list disk. show only system hdd plz tell me this problem solution

  69. werg April 23, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Didn’t work because one of the files from win8 is larger than 4gb wich fat32 does not support

  70. Ram ji April 26, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    how can we copy from drive …
    like if my window is in E:\Softwares\Window Ultimate.
    then what is process..

  71. waqar May 13, 2014 at 1:48 am #

    thanks for the help

  72. Oli June 7, 2014 at 4:40 am #

    Just asking, will this install to the SD card or a HDD? Because I’d like to install it to a 32GB SD.

  73. sam July 28, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    Hye
    So I just copy the iso file from the cd drive to the sd card ? No need for win32diskmager ?

  74. azharsamy79 August 18, 2014 at 7:51 am #

    i have iso which is stored on hard drive. do i still have to follow the same step after step 5. is it still possible to make bootable flashdrive with this method

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